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Country girl Yu Hong leaves her village, her family and her lover to study in Beijing. At university, she discovers an intense world of sexual freedom and forbidden pleasure. Enraptured, compulsive, she falls madly in love with fellow student Zhou Wei. Driven by obsessive passions they can neither understand nor control, their relationship becomes one of dangerous games - betrayals, recriminations, provocations - as all around them, their fellow students begin to demonstrate, demanding democracy and freedom. Protests collapse, and Yu and Zhou lose each other amidst the social chaos and panicked crowds. Zhou Wei is sent to a summer military camp, and on his release moves to Berlin, fleeing both his country and memories of Yu. She finds a job, a lover, but can not forget Zhou. In Germany, social unrest is mounting: calls for freedom, demonstrations for democracy. A familiar story for Zhou. Weary, still haunted by Yu, he returns to China as the Berlin Wall crashes down. He finds her at ... Written by
In September of 2006, director Lou Ye was barred from making movies for five years because the film incorporated footage of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and wasn't screened for Chinese officials. The Chinese government also demanded that all copies of the film be confiscated. See more »
The fashionable clothing worn by characters Yu Hong and Zhou Wei throughout their scenes as university students simply did not exist in China at this time nor for at least another decade. Mainland Chinese students circa the 1980s would have worn nondescript, non-branded attire rather than the high-heels, hipster track suits, designer dresses and sexy lingerie worn by the actors and actresses in Summer Palace. See more »
Beijing student girl in love - for romantics and young of heart
I saw this movie at the 2007 International Film Festival of Rotterdam. The director was present at the screening for a Q&A.
Plot Summary (beginning only): China in the late 1980's. Yu Hong, a 17-year old girl leaves her boyfriend and father to go studying in Beijing. She befriends a girl who stays in a dorm across the hall. They go out dancing with her boyfriend and another friend, Zhou Wei. She soon knows: this is the love of her life.
This is the start of a story about love, mostly from the viewpoint of Yu Hong, the girl. We get insight into her thoughts as she reads from her diary in a voice-over. The love story is set against the student protests on Tiananmen Square. The protests and riots set off a change in the lives of all the main characters. We skip through time and return with them in the late 1990's.
Summer Palace has a lot to say during its 140 minutes. Becoming an adult in the 80's and 90's in China, student life, friendship, sex and most of all love. The language alternates between high-sounding diary thoughts and realistic taken-from-life dialogs. The photography varies from poetic "print it and hang it on the wall" quality to a grittier style, e.g. during the riots.
I really liked how the director fit love making scenes so integral into the movie. In most movies, scenes suddenly stop to ensure a good MPAA-rating. Or the camera pans and zooms unnaturally to keep the 'dirty parts' out of view. Here, director Lou Ye keeps things flowing to simply tell the full story of two people during all stages of their relation. Notice for instance how Yu Hong's love making changes as the story progresses.
This, and other elements such as "defining love" and the background of political turmoil brought back memories of Philip Kaufnan's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, based on Milan Kundera's book. I must admit that TULoB (the 1988 movie) made more impact on me when I first saw it than Summer Palace does now. But this different ranking may also be the result of my cultural background (I am European), age or maturity.
This movie may speak more to the young of heart and the romantics. A bit to my surprise, the few people that I saw leaving the theater prematurely were all 50+. This movie can split audiences, I guess. Some will ravingly love it, but it may leave others unaffected. People who belong to the latter group, will probably also think that the movie is too slow or too long. I base this on comments that I have read and heard at the festival.
I probably want to see this movie again. some time soon. The images and music are worth experiencing another time. Also, at times the pace of events is quite high, so it may help me to capture all of it better.
I rate this movie as one of the highlights of the festival: It's probably also the best movie from China that I have seen in the last two years: 9/10.
Crew Trivia: Cinematographer Qing Hua was a classmate in film school of Yu Wang, the director of photography of Suzhou River (the director's breakthrough film). Qing Hua was recommended by Yu Wang when he was unavailable.
Title Trivia: Summer Palace is the name of one of the buildings at Tiananmen Square. According to the director, the events at the square mark a change in the lives of the main characters.
Connection Trivia: Asked about being influenced or inspired by "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", director Lou Ye says that he is a big admirer of Kundera's novel, not so much the film adaptation.
Screenplay Trivia: Asked about the possible difficulty of having a young woman being the center of the story, director / screenwriter Lou Ye says that it made it actually easier. With a female main character, it was more natural for him to talk about love and emotions.
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